16 incredible pictures of what the world looks like from 38,000 feet

Published: October 5, 2016
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With an ever-changing view of the world below the clouds, pilot and photographer Martjin Kort is able to capture views that most of us don’t get from our office windows.

Every week Kort takes to the skies, 38,000 feet above in a commercial airliner and captures the world below. His passion for flying and photography go hand-in-hand as he aims to share amazing views of the world with others. “By showing the beauty of our earth from my perspective, I hope that people will take a moment and realise how beautiful it is out there,” Kort tells The Express Tribune. 

An amazing sunset with a layer of clouds. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

Intrigued by Kort’s skills of flying an aircraft and capturing stunning images simultaneously we wanted to know how he manages both at the same time. “I only take pictures when it’s allowed (above 10,000 ft when the workload is low) and when the autopilot is flying the plane,” he said, adding that “the pictures I take during landings are all remotely taken. I plan those, set it up during the cruise and then timers take over. This way, I don’t have to watch or touch the camera and I can do my job as a captain.”

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And the result of combining photography and flying a plane are some of the most amazing views which Kort is able to share with the rest of the world.

A beautiful sunrise over vinkeveen, while departing from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

Flying over the Netherlands during our approach to Amsterdam airport Schiphol, runway 27.
 A pilot’s view from 1.5 km altitude. 

Just past Bussum, you see the Ankerveensche plassen on the left and the river “de Vecht”.
 When we where coming through the clouds we had this magnificent sight. Continuing the turn towards the west, we faced the sun more directly and it became very hazy. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

“The birds eye view of the world is something that is different every time, especially during sunrise and sunset,” Kort shared. “At night the world seems to be a completely different place. During clear nights the stars are bright and sharp and city lights are passing below. When you are lucky, you can see the milky way arcing through the sky.”

Speaking on how he developed an interest in photography, Kort said, “As a kid I went to the mountains a lot with my parents. The views from the top of a 3 kilometre mountain are stunning. I was taking photos every time we went up.”

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“When capturing a subject according to your vision, you have to study the subject and capture it in the best light possible. That play with light is something that I love to do.”

PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

Experiencing views from a cockpit window is difficult when trying to capture it through a lens. “You are moving at 900 kilometres per hour and the dynamic range is huge. (Dynamic range is the difference between light and dark) It’s a challenge to capture the bright outside and the relative dark cockpit all correctly,” Kort explained. “At night it’s the other way around. The bright instruments and the dark night. But if you master it, the results can be amazing.”

Although Kort’s photographs seem almost effortless, there are times when safety must be prioritised over a photo opportunity. “There are moments when I can’t take photos but the views were amazing. It’s a pity that I wasn’t able to share those views. Safety is my most important concern and a photo is never going to jeopardise that.”

A stunning sunset together with our office. No matter how many times I see this, it keeps amazing me.The views from the cockpit at high altitude are amazing every time. Especially during sunset and sunrise. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

As effortless as they seem, a lot of work and practice goes into taking such stunning shots from so high up in the air as Kort shared. “I’ve spent a whole lot of time reading, studying, experimenting and trying what gear works before I got the results I’m achieving now. Apart from the compositions you need to understand the technical part of photography very well. The moments where the light is fantastic and everything lines up are so short, there is no time to guess what will work. You have to know how to capture a scene during difficult lighting.”

PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

Other than aviation photography, Kort has a penchant for architecture, city and landscape photography which he says he would happily take up should he have to choose between flying and photography.

“I’d pick photography. It’s something that I can be creative with, challenge myself every time I go out there to produce something new and exciting. Flying is and was a dream job, but I’ve been doing it for 15 years now and have made it to where I wanted to be. I still love it, but it’s not as challenging as photography,” he said.

The night is approaching as a dark band in the sky. The sun sets to the west. When flying high enough, you can see both. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

Surfing the clouds during a fantastic night with the bright moon lighting up the few clouds below us during our final descent towards runway 18R in Amsterdam. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

During sunset the light gets amazing. You can see the reflection of the red beacon light on the engine cowling. I had to time this correctly to see the reflection on the engine. It gives an awesome view. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

Kort’s aviation collection boasts a variety of photographs captured during his travels but he speaks fondly of one photograph he took during a night landing in Amsterdam. “It was the first night landing that I successfully captured and to me it shows calmness in a very dynamic environment,” Kort recalls.

“We are very busy during the landing. Communicating, doing checklists, flying the plane, calculating the speeds, taking the environment into account and so on. But when you would be sitting behind us, you wouldn’t notice all of that. It’s all happening in a short period of time, with only the necessary communication between us. Most of it happens in our head.” The picture is representative of that. The cockpit is sharp and calm and the lights are flashing by trough the windows, representing the controlled chaos outside.

Approaching the airport of Ibiza during the early morning. The sun is about to rise as we fly towards the party island. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

Welcome at 11 km altitude or 38.000 feet. A view from the flight deck of a modern airliner somwhere over turkey. PHOTO: MARTIJN KORT

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Reader Comments (3)

  • Bunny Rabbit
    Oct 5, 2016 - 1:55PM

    Gosh the cockpit control board with those buttons and lights is enough to scare the day lights off anyone . Recommend

  • whaaa!
    Oct 5, 2016 - 5:27PM

    Those are beautiful photos, but I would really like our pilots to focus on flying only and only, please!

    Thank you :)Recommend

  • Javed Muzaffar
    Oct 6, 2016 - 2:37AM

    @ whaaa. Sir,as a retired Airline Captain, I can assure you that it is. perfectly safe to click a picture at cruise altitude.To further reassure you
    Pilots also have their meals and coffee while still at the controls, and that sure takes longer than clicking a pic. Cheers!Recommend

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